Like any ski patroller, Crystal Mountain’s Avalanche Dogs love their job. Trained to find avalanche victims buried in the snow, dogs like Kayla and Dee (shown right) have spent their lives learning to follow human scent under the snow. It isn’t easy, but don’t tell Kayla and Dee–they love it. To them, it’s just a big game. After each search practice the dogs get to play with a special toy reserved only as a reward for finding a buried victim. And Dee loves gloves.
Here, she’s got a hold of mine, and enjoys keeping it away from Kayla.
Training an avalanche dog is difficult business. My dog, Rocket, rest his soul, spent his life alongside me on the hill. In the mornings, we went to work together. And at night, he slept beside me. I like to think we understood each other.
When Rocket found his first real victim, I had hoped he would be a hero. I had wanted him to save someone’s life. After all, that’s why we trained so hard. I had spent years digging snow caves, getting buried in avalanche debris to simulate the real thing, and opting to do “dog work” instead of free ski. Rocket and I were committed.
But sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan. Rocket did find a victim, but it was no use. The guy had died instantly. That day he didn’t want to play with his special toy, either. Rocket knew it wasn’t a game.
Today, as I watch Dee and Kayla steal my glove, romp in the snow, and rub their backs in the powder, trying to scratch beneath their patrol vests, I miss my own dog. I wish he had lived a few more years. Rocket was the best dog a girl could have.
But our best canine friends never do live long enough. Perhaps that’s what makes them so special in our hearts.